Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tokyo street life

Two little school girls . . . "lets karaoke instead of homework!"

Sekaido, Shinjuku, the store extraordinaire for stationary, arts and crafts. A must go.

Book vending machine for best sellers. You want it, they've got it.

Citizen disaster preparedness team training in Ueno park.

A leggy duo. Love the tat!

Delightful Haneda Airport

Haneda Airport, one of the domestic airports of Tokyo, expanded its services to include an International Terminal in 2010. Connectivity from central Tokyo is via the Keihin Kyuko Railway or Tokyo Monorail, accessible in under an hour and at well under one third the cost compared to the Limousine Bus or Narita Express train to Narita. Well chosen Air Asia X!

Somewhat reminiscent of KLCC's interior, it is delightful as it is efficient. In 2009 it was nominated by Forbes Traveller as most punctual airport with 94.3% of flights credited to be on-time.

Despite a five-layered queue with 4 active counters, check-in moved smoothly and I was holding a boarding card well with in half an hour. The pre check-in line was 5 passengers long - must remember to try that route next time.

Before immigration, it would be advised to wonder down the Edo-like village of shops and restaurants. Very pretty and quaint.

The sense of space is much appreciated and lends to the large choice of interesting cuisines offered - sushi, Japano-western, grilled specialities and cafes. A far cry from our LCCT and its market-place ambiance and filthy toilets. Looking forward to the new complex because I think Air Asia is here to stay.

My passion for unagi was left wanting, so not surprisingly I selected this meal of unadon with trimmings.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Antinuclear Protest - Harajuku 7.5.11

It was a throwback to the seventies, witnessing an antinuclear protest in Harajuku that rainy day on 7 th May 2011. Inching along Meiji Dori, the peaceful procession was led by a band in an open van belting out Led Zeppelins' 'Gotta a whole lotta love'.

True to form, law enforcement impeded the advancement of the protest. In Japan, bodily contact with law enforcement, intentional or otherwise, leads to arrest and a couple of guys copped it so to speak.

Those were the days my friend . . .

Shin-Obuko - Korea Town, Tokyo

Shin-Okubo is Korea Town in Tokyo. This enclave is the largest home to close to 100,000 Koreans, second to Osaka. Made up mainly of 'new comers' from South Korea immigrated after WW II more so in the 80's, retained their ethnic and cultural identity as well as language, and created Korean-based commercial centers.

Before the war from 1910, two million Koreans moved to Japan for economic reasons while many were brought as labourers, most returned to their homeland after the war. Those who remained, the Zainichi, make up the largest ethnic minority group in Japan of about 600,000. They are naturalised citizens of Japan but retain Old Korean (Joseon) or South Korean citizenship.

K-pop (Korean popular music) has taken the world by storm. This musical genre of electronic, hip hop, R & B, rock and pop has invaded the young Asian Internet society shifting paradigms in the music industry. Through the social networks of Facebook, Twitter and iTunes, music, videos, fan news and merchandising a new wave commercialism has emerged. Girl bands like The Wonder Girls hit the US Billboards in 2009 with 'Nobody'. Boy bands and individuals artists are collaborating with international artists for global exposure and it works.

A K-pop shop dealing in merchandise ranging from inner wear to lollies endorsed by bands of the day.

In contrast this sorry sign marks the spot of a former Malaysian restaurant that has seen better days. If you look really hard, the letters on the far left spells Mahathir, the name of this establishment.

Our destination, a humble snack place up a gloomy flight of stairs. Our Korean friend ordered the shredded cabbage with ketchup and by popular request two types of fried chicken that we had tried before. Yangyeum fried chicken, the one in the foreground, is generously dowsed in sweet and spicy yangyeum sauce and sesame seeds; and the other is the ginger-soya sauce flavoured version. The secret to making this chicken so delicious is that it is double-fried enabling the fat of the skin melt giving a transparent crispy texture.

This fiery orange-coloured dish is kim chee Korean omelette. The rolled version is called gaeran mari.

Happy diners . . .

Monday, 9 May 2011

Nagoya Ryori

A visit to Nagoya is a chance to get down and dirty with the infamous Tebasaki, local fried chicken wings. Make an effort to go to Furaibo (above), the place that locals flock to.

Seasoned in soy sauce, sake, mirin, ginger, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a serving of six wings is barely enough to whet the appetite. Only calorie counts would hold you back, if you are thinking about cutting the fat.

A simple but tasty grilled aubergine smothered in miso is a savoury delight. The firm texture of the Japanese eggplant lends to the grilling process leaving it crisp rather than limp.

The aftermath. A pile of bones reveal our shameful (but not regrettable) satisfaction.

Where Malaysians would gladly avoid a 4-person queue (for anything other than real estate perhaps), the Japanese patiently wait for hours in line for their favourite foods.

Having his meal before him, this metrosexual samurai has studied the traditional procedures involved in approaching Hitsumabushi, barbecued unagi (eel) rice or unadon. The main dish is divided into 4 quarters. The first quarter is ladled into a small rice bowl and eaten in this unadulterated form. The unagi is prepared by initial roasting then coated with sweet soya sauce, a speciality of the region, and grilled again.

The second serving, mixed with accompanying chopped spring onions, wasabi and shredded nori (sea weed) encourage the flavours to pop. The third quarter is ceremoniously drenched in dashi (ubiquitous Japanese kelp or fish stock) tea and slurped up till the bowl is clean.

The best is saved for last. The final serving is for you to savour in your favourite style. I love the Japanese mind for thinking this up. Sensual, philosophical and thoroughly human. If you're wondering whether equal amounts of unagi land up in each quarter, they thought that out too. To ensure this, unagi is cut into 1 cm pieces, rather than served as a whole in the usual unadon. Brilliant!

Kishimen is the local flat wheat noodle with a lot of bounce. With a choice of clear soup stock for the less adventurous,
to tangy vinegary cold noodles for hot summers,
to savoury miso gravy catering to the local romance with miso, it is a popular snack found in malls, stalls and festival areas.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Arimatsu, the Shibori center

Arimatsu, 20 minutes by semi-express, costing 340 Yen, on the Meitetsu line from Nagoya, is the center of Shibori or tie-dying dating back to 1608. Shibori originally was practised by the poor where old fabrics were refreshed by dying instead of buying new clothes. Later during the long peaceful period of the Tokugawa Shogunate, different arts flourished. Shibori developed along two paths; tie-dying of silk kimonos for the aristocracy and folk art from different regions.

This town was quiet for Golden week. Most shops were closed. We happened upon a Shibori shop and a chatty owner, who became more so when he discovered we were Malaysians. He had visited Penang and loved the food. A fellow resident of Arimatsu was a Malaysian married to a Vietnamese, who was previously married to a Japanese. He went on to share with us that the Malaysian had since obtained Japanese citizenship and was in the business of manufacturing mouldings for car parts.

I relate this only because it is notably unusual for this much personal information to be forthcoming from a perfect stranger, Japanese at that. His father, who joined the conversation, didn't have much to contribute except repeating 'Malaysia atsui' (hot). I think they are lovely friendly people who shared common ground.

In the old town, Edo period houses line narrow streets on either side. Symmetrical windows with thick shutters are characteristic and presumably keep out the cold winds effectively.

Overlapping eaves of roofs cleverly drain rainwater into ornate copper gutters.

The annual Shibori festival draws textile artists from all over the world. The world is small indeed. My cousin, on my mother's side, is a Shibori textile artist living in Cambridge, England. She is quite an authority on the subject and has been an invited speaker to Malaysia, USA and the UK. I remember her mention Arimatsu in her stories.

This exceptionally tall building houses festival floats through the year between displays. Again you see careful preservation of cultural artifacts for posterity.

Pretty wooden cottages tucked away in a quite nook.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Kiyosu Castle, spoils of Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the rule of the shogun in the late 16th century. From then on his dynasty continued the process leading to the opening up of Japan to the West in the 19th century.

After the capture of Kiyosu Castle in 1555, Oda Nobunaga made it his milliary center. Later his son began major extentions and reconstruction of the castle.

During World War II only 5 castles were spared destruction. In the sixties, a program was initiated to reconstruct these maimed iconic relics. Unfortunately, Kiyosu was forgotten until 1989, but that turned out to be an advantage as mistakes learnt from earlier projects were avoided resulting in the most authentic castle make-over.

A mere 7 minutes and 200 Yen ride from Nagoya JR Station on the Tokaido line brings you to Kiyosu. The 20 minute walk to the castle would have been fine except I realised I had forgotten to spread sunblock on my face. Ouch, I could feel the melanocytes soaking up UV rays from the cloudless sky and churning out melanin pigment like crazy.

Back to Oda, imagine the days and nights of battle creating a new dawn.

Reliving and commemorating these glorious days are what the Japanese do. Festivals and parades are their forte.

The interior, six stories high presented Nobunaga with vistas of his subjects and environs.

The visuals made imagination easy and gave prospective.

Visitors from the West included Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and the Dutch. Their impact was not great apart from being featured in paintings, evidence of perseverance of Japanese culture.

The Golden Dolphin, kinshachijo, in the form of a tiger-head dolphin, represents rain and so deems power and protection from fire. It is a prominent decorative feature of the Nagoya Castle.